101 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Subway Mighty Wallet”

  1. Apparently, back in ’08 when the price of gas went through the roof last time, trolleys briefly became cheaper per hour than diesels. Does anyone know roughly what the break-even point is and if we’re there yet?

    1. Metro’s never really detailed how they came up with the operating numbers for the ETBs. On a cost of energy per hour they are way lower. On a operating cost basis they may be slightly higher than fleet average because (due to the routes they operate) they are smaller than average buses. Seattle City Light overcharges for electricity so the City can pay for service like the ride free area. Maintenance costs were apparently compared ETBs near (past) end of life to brand new hybrid coaches.

      1. “Seattle City Light overcharges for electricity so the City can pay for service like the ride free area” – Huh? Where did you get that from, I’m curious. If that’s true, then we *really* need to can the RFA.

        FWIW: Comparing the costs of maintaining a Breda vs. a New Flyer is like comparing maintenance costs of a Toyota Camry vs. a Fiat. Yeah, you can compare numbers, but the Bredas are notoriously fickle and troublesome. The 60′ Hybrids also have their quirks, but I’ve learned to get out to a Breda early if I want to leave the yard on time. I’ve never heard anybody at Metro say anything redeeming about the decision to purchase the Bredas.

        That said, they are fun to drive on speed wire – probably as close as I’ll ever get to operating a freight train.

      2. OK, “overcharge” is a bit strong but they charge the residential rate rather than the special rate large business users get. Seattle has some sweetheart deals the “pay” for additional service like using the SLUT advertising revenue to cover the City share of operations.

      3. Ok, that makes more sense. Given the infrastructure required to supply power to Metro, charging the residential rate may make sense since they have a lot of power drops spread throughout the city. We’re also on separate circuits from the businesses and traffic lights around us. When the power goes out in a neighborhood, your friendly ETB keeps moving. (This feature is also handy when one of our speedier ATU 587 brethren go through special work too fast and rip down the overhead. The power to the buses goes out but we don’t blow the circuit for power in the neighborhood. That sound you hear is me knocking on a wood desk as I still haven’t pulled down any overhead – yet… :)

      4. Ok, that makes more sense. Given the infrastructure required to supply power to Metro, But they’re double dipping by adding in the cost of maintaining the overhead. The ETBs provide service only within and primarily to the people within the service area of Seattle City Light. The power should be billed at cost.

      5. Actually the County has detained how they came up with the operating numbers. Try Google. As to City Light “overcharging” – we have some of the lowest electrical rates in the country – and in the County. Compare PSE costs per KW to City Light and you’ll see that PSE customers pay about 20% more.

        The current fleet of ETB’s are considered to be near or past end of life, due largely to the outdated controls and other onboard electronics. The motors themselves weren’t bought new, but reconditioned and removed from the old fleet to be placed in the new.

        The higher cost of running ETB’s compared to DE or even just D buses has to do with the cost of maintaining the overhead and power distribution system more so than the buses themselves.

      6. I thought Seattle City Light was cheap until I saw this website:


        Compare Seattle to some of the other cities for average monthly electricity costs. It’s way more than any city in CA and significantly higher than many other cities around the country.

      7. barman,

        I’m really skeptical of that site. If you notice, their costs for Seattle include both electricity and natural gas. But the average electrical bill includes the cost of heating, and many (most?) homes have no natural gas at all.

        For example, according to that site, the average Seattle electric bill is $71.54. But the average SF electricity bill is $48.96, *and* the average gas bill is $66.30. That’s over $100 for something that would only cost $70 in Seattle.

        And since SF is warmer, you need less heat, and for less of the year.

        Either way, a much more fair way to compare electric rates is, well, the actual rate. SCL charges 4.61 cents per kWh for base electricity, and 9.56 for extra use. In contrast, PG&E in SF charges 12 cents per kWh for base, and up to 40 cents per kWh for extra.

        We’ve got it pretty good. :)

    2. The energy useage of the individual vehicles is quite low. I think there were three things that tipped the king county auditor’s report, first off the cost of having the line crew and maintaing the overhead. Unlike europe where trolleycoach systems are fairly common, its a limited market over here (for now that is) and many parts have to be fabricated or imported specially. Secondly, the cost of the extra manpower to maintain the overhead. Motorcoaches dont need a line crew, and line crews are expensive. Finally, the auditor had to some up with some kind of conclusion in his report, if he dosent he’s not doing his job. ETBs are a low hanging fruit in that regards, especally now since the coaches are nearing the end of their useful life. The auditor looks at the numbers, mabye with a bit of sway from those being audited and nothing else. If he were to look at whats going on in the world around him with any logical though he would probally advocate against removing electric trolleycoaches since the price of fuel is not a sure thing anymore.

      1. I seriously doubt the auditor took into account the wear and tear on a diesel- or hybrid- coach carrying standing loads up the Queen Anne Counterbalance or James Street east of Third. Legend has it we destroyed a fleet of excellent GMC “New Look” buses in the years when the old Seattle Transit trolleywire was being replaced.

        Agree with Velo on the Bredas. It was a kick and a half running a subway with them, including pulling under the “pans” and wiring up. The electric package was probably the only decent thing about the bus- that and the third door, which Tunnel buses definitely need.

        I think the conversion to straight trolley left out one critical step: aftern removing the motor and control gear, every Breda should have been sent through a shredder and an electric furnace. The steel could then have built us a new fleet, once the electric stuff was re-installed.

        Wish I could drive them again, however, for one reason: the driver’s area seems to have enough ventilation the air is breathable. Rest of the bus is about like that ship in “Pirates of the Caribbean II”, that lies on the bottom of the ocean ’til it rises to do evil.

        Anything we can do about that?

        Mark Dublin

      2. Aren’t trolly bus drivers paid more too? Maybe that has something to do with it. I know they have special training and have to deal with things the diesel drivers don’t.

    3. Actually, the National Transit Database has numbers for this. Check out the report for 2009:

      Operating Expense per Vehicle Revenue Hour
      Bus: $144.78
      Trolleybus: $108.89

      That might be skewed some because of using revenue hours instead of service hours, since the trolleys don’t do as much deadheading as many other Metro routes.

      1. Mmmm, $145/hr for a bus is even more expensive than King County Metro which is the highest in the NW. That seems really high. The $109/hr is going to be based on a very small sample size since there’s only a few systems using ETBs in America. Of those systems I’m pretty sure Seattle’s cost of electricity is by far the lowest. I think if it was apples to apples on operating cost the ETB would be a winner. What’s hard to swallow is the high capital cost since so few are built. And of course it’s unlikely other systems are going to adopt them any time soon since they’d also be charged with the high cost of adding overhead wire.

      2. Bernie, that wasn’t a national average. That’s the numbers reported to the feds by Metro. See the link.

      3. Ah, I missed that “report” was a link. I also missed that you correctly listed these as cost per revenue hour. $130/hr is the more commonly cited cost per platform hour. I didn’t understand what was included in the report as capital costs. Is that depreciation, money spent that fiscal year, or what? If you put that in the trolly buses look even better. However, it’s not clear if the cost of overhead maintenance is anywhere in this report. On the other hand, if the comparision was made directly to diesel buses serving only the trolly routes I’m betting the diesel, even a hybrid is going to stink!

  2. The Kalakala appears to be in trouble again in Tacoma. According to the Tacoma News Tribune, the ship has been listing and taking on water in the Hylebos Waterway in Tacoma. Why we can’t save this important piece of our history is beyond me. Anyway, Steve Rodriguez has an appeal out at: http://www.kalakala.org/

    I hope we can save it and restore it and keep it in the Puget Sound somewhere safe and vital.


    1. It’s an interesting development that the Kalakala is becoming a for profit venture. It’s had a split personality in the past where a private entity has donated the assets to a not for profit corporation. I’m not sure how those assets can be undonated.

      “We have a lot of plans,” Rodrigues said. “We have a lot going on, but I can’t talk about it right now.”

      “What I can say, is we are going from nonprofit to profit. It’s official as of today.”

      Sounds like a quote from Tom Payne. It’s unfortunate that the only value I can see to recover from the ship is scrap. Perhaps it’s fate that determined the last mooring place would be next to a metal recycler. Sad, very sad.

  3. So last year Central LINK had 6.98 million boardings. The fare revenue reported for it in 2010 was only $9,468,000 though. That means the per-boarding fare was only $1.35 – well below what it should have been (there are no fares that low . . .).

    Is that due to 1 out of 3 riders not paying any fares?

    Is it due to people swinging legs back and forth across the sensors when doors are open, creating artificially-high boardings numbers?

    Some combination of those two factors?

    1. I’m curious how revenue from passes is included in that number. As a U-PASS holder, I don’t pay a fare when I ride Link. How is the math for that pass included in the revenue?

      1. Ditto here. King County employees have flash passes that are probably accounted for via some magic formula. On a related note, I’ve always wondered how King County accounts for the cost of employee bus passes. Do they pay for the annual passes like Micosoft pays for FlexPasses? Or do they just do some sort of non-cash accounting with a possible payment to external agencies that honor the pass like CT, PT, and possible ST?

      2. There’s no way ST can possibly account for flash passes. That, and how trivial it is to forge or steal/buy them, are the reasons they’re being phased out.

    2. I think the counters are fairly accurate but I still don’t understand how they rule out trips taken only in the tunnel if people don’t tap out. I suspect the main reason the fare proportion is so low is because people are transferring and the money gets split between Link and one or more bus rides. Remember, the fare per boarding is well below the lowest fare rate for all modes.

      1. Not sure what you mean about trips only in the tunnel. The train is technically not in the RFA, so tunnel accounting should be no different to anything else. That said, I’ve never been fare checked in the tunnel whereas I’ve been checked a number of times south of Stadium, even though there’s far more security presence on the trains and platforms in the tunnel than outside.

    3. This certainly suggests that ST’s ridership counts may be skewed to the high side. There are many ways this can be happening, as I have described before:

      1) Fare checkers certainly are counted by the automatic counters, and they obviously pay no fare. They should not be counted as “riders.” Are they?

      2) Same thing for operators getting on and off the trains at SeaTac station, and the guys who check the trains at Westlake. They use the passenger doors at the same time as passengers are boarding and deboarding, so the counters obviously count them. They pay no fare.

      3) Metro bus drivers use Link all the time. They never pay fares and I have never seen a bus driver tap on or off at any station (Stadium is their most-used station, and you can see if people tap on or off when they walk past the readers).

      4) Security personnel ride Link all the time, and they don’t pay fares. Automatic counters certainly count them. Especially the security people in the downtown tunnel ride Link trains between stations all the time.

      5) Lots of riders use Link just between stations inside the tunnel without paying. I think many of them just assume it is a free zone, because those trips are free on any bus.

      6) Large pieces of luggage and big dogs are possibly being counted as passengers. If a person has their hand on the handle of a large bag, that may give off enough heat for the sensors to think the bag is a passenger. One of the guys who used to ride the Link trains counting passengers told me that ST suspected this was happening. He also told me that ST estimates the automatic counters over-count by a few percentage points.

      In sum, I suspect that ST is over-counting passengers on Link trains. ST’s counts each month were somewhat above the counts I did myself, and my counts included all the fare checkers, security people, et. al. All those ST employees who board and deboard (and take short trips on) Link trains every day should not be counted as “passengers”. But the automatic counters have no way of distinguishing an ST operator, fare-checker, or sercurity person from a paying passenger.

      1. This certainly suggests that ST’s ridership counts may be skewed to the high side.

        Not really. This fact provides no way to compare two competing hypotheses such as “ST’s APC’s overcount people in a way that Metro’s don’t” and “lots of people do ORCA transfers from other services.”

        ST’s counts each month were somewhat above the counts I did myself, and my counts included all the fare checkers, security people, et. al.

        If you actually made a statistically significant survey of the number of passengers boarding and deboarding Link at any station, you need to get a life. If you didn’t, you’re talking out of your ass, and you should give that part of your body a break.

      2. Regarding #3, you must have missed the post where King County employees do not have ORCA yet. The operators currently have a flash pass.

    1. Bellevue is next in line to receive decent high-capacity transit, the best efforts of your city council notwithstanding. You could regard East Link as hub and spoke, but you could also regard it as being a trunk line for the Eastside when it’s eventually built out to Redmond, facilitating the kind of non-Seattle-centric development you want.

      I also don’t think most urbanists care in general whether new development goes into Bellevue, Seattle or Overlake. What I think most of us care about is that it’s the highest density development that’s compatible with the economic situation and the type of use visualized, and that it not continue to eat away at farmland, forestry and wilderness areas. What we don’t want is to see is Snoqualmie become the next Issaquah while Issaquah stays at its current density. Or for a more concrete example, I want Link, if at all possible, to go up Aurora rather than I-5, so that while it will still serve Snohomish commuters, it will (combined with appropriate rezoning etc.) also stimulate development and densification in that existing underdeveloped corridor.

      Another thing: every time someone demands that Metro/ST/whoever stop being so downtown-centric, I always ask them what other job centers are out there are anything like the size of Downtown Seattle, and can be easily served with transit. I usually get silence after that. In the latest ST Express service revision, the routes that were most severely cut back due to under-performance were the non-Seattle routes; people just didn’t ride them, and it wasn’t for lack of effort on the part of ST.

      I suspect the answer is a mix of corporate culture and tax incentives. The city of Seattle strongly incentivizes companies there to give out employee bus passes through the trip reduction program. Do other cities do the same? I suspect not, although I can’t be bothered to do all the necessary Googling. Also, many of the non-downtown employment centers are at places like Boeing, where the company already owns several hundred acres of real estate, so providing parking isn’t much of an effort, whereas prodding people to take the bus will cause grumbling.

      1. East Link is indeed Hub and Spoke. I think most people commuting to the eastside are having to go DT first and then take the wrong bridge to get to Bellevue and Overlake. On the eastside the big transportation demand for Belleuve commuters isn’t east/west anymore it’s north/south which East Link does nothing to address. In other words, virtually the entire capital budget for decades is consumed by the direction that least needs it and it’s going via the Ranier Vally instead of the UW. Even going to the airport or the stadiums eastsiders have to go all the way into DT and then backtrack. And worse, it goes across I-90 but misses the majority of the I-90 and south 405 demand instead serving two park and ride lots; one with zero development potential and the other extremely limited and expensive. Even the much heralded Bel-Red is going to rely primarily on P&R butts to put people on the train until there is a sea change in development. Nobody lives there and DT Bellevue is glutted with new development that has only scratch the surface of what’s planned.

        severely cut back due to under-performance were the non-Seattle routes;

        Because people don’t want to waste hours every week going into Seattle to get from point A to point B in the suburbs or ride some milk run that takes routes nobody would ever ever drive. Eastside service improvement is simple if not brutal. Concentrate almost exclusively on peak hour commuting. You can never serve a transit dependent lifestyle but you can run reasonably productive peak hour service. Even if revenue doesn’t match that of the west side it still provides meaningful congestion relief reducing the demand for “more lanes”. Mid-day empty buses do nothing except perhaps entice people to live farther out in the burbs when their situation really dictates living in an area that is better served by transit.

      2. It’s hardly decade late quarterbacking any more than arguing we have to build the deep bore tunnel because it’s been decided and we’ve already sunk a pile of money into it. The R.H. Thompson was stopped even though they had already started pouring concrete thanks to “decade late quarterbacking”.

    2. Bernie, I don’t understand how a downtown-centric system is incompatible with Eastside growth. The jobs are still in downtown Seattle and South Lake Union. Outside of that, you have downtown Bellevue and Overlake/MS.

      I take objection to the notion of only serving trips that begin and end in these nodes, which I believe is unintentionally implied by your use of “hub and spoke.” There’s a lot of underdeveloped land along corridors between nodes. Improving transit service along these corridors will make better use of the existing land, rather than forcing even more greenfield development farther out from where the jobs are.

      The city of Bellevue certainly recognizes that in their designs for Bel-Red.

      1. Kyle, Jobs are also in places such as Everett, Kent Valley, Issaquah, and even in south Puget Sound. In fact, the majority of jobs in this region are OUTSIDE of the city of Seattle. Why do you insist on a downtown-centric system if that is not where the majority of jobs or people are?

      2. Charles, the majority of the population also lives outside Seattle (and certainly downtown Seattle). But that’s where there is a large concentration of jobs, which are easy to serve with transit.

      3. Charles, a previous post on this blog cited a Brooking Institute report that put downtown job employment at 20% of the region. (Sorry, the device I’m using doesn’t make linking convenient.) Approximately 50% of employment is located outside of 3 miles away from downtown.

        Considering how many of those jobs are Microsoft, and that the survey methodology doesn’t count downtown Bellevue as a downtown area, and that there are a fraction of jobs that are location-dependent, I’d say we have a pretty downtown-centric employment environment. It’s split between the three “downtowns” I mentioned: Seattle, Bellevue, and Overlake/MS. That makes it much easier to serve many jobs with transit.

        Smart planning, both transit and development wise, can make us get much more regional economic output for every dollar of transit i

      4. —investment we make, especially when compared to equivalent road investment.

        (Itchy trigger finger, sorry.)

    3. Even if the largest cities in the region are not meeting their growth targets, increased densification in largish, close-in cities like Lynwood, Redmond, Kirkland, Renton, Federal Way and Kent(!) will help channel the growth to areas that make more effective use of the transportation corridors we already have. The downtown-centric approach to transit will probably continue for a while, but ought to evolve over time to a more node-to-node network.

    4. But why are the unincorporated areas continuing to grow faster? The article doesn’t seem to say. Are the cities refusing too many permits for more or larger developments? Are the counties still too lax with permits, contradicting their own urban-growth policies? How many new “outside” houses were built-to-live-in vs built-to-sell? How much of this was an anomaly of the real estate bubble and has now self-corrected? How many “outside” residents would have accepted in-city housing if it had been more family-friendly (more bedrooms, more neighborhood amenities, better transit, more affordable)?

      We can’t just say targeted urban growth is impossible without exploring why it hasn’t kept up and whether these problems are fixable. Some would say, “People just want to live in detached houses in low-density neighborhoods, period.”, but I think it’s not as simple as that. And we do need to prepare for a future where energy is more scarce/expensive. It’s just like preparing for an earthquake.

      1. Because land use polices in the county are more lax than in cities. And developers like it that way. Look at what developers have tried to do (perhaps successfully) in breaking rigorous land use planning policies in the Portland area and in King County.

        But I also want to point out that a county or region wide land use policy should not pre-suppose that all growth happens in only one city (e.g. the largest one). There are about 4 million people in the region and they are all not going to fit inside the confines of Seattle. It is just fine that places like Bellevue, Everett, Lynnwood and Federal Way exist and our transportation and land use policies must acknowledge the fact that significant job centers are NOT in the city of Seattle.

        How do you get the 30 thousand workers who work at the everett plant to not use cars? Especially during the third shift? How do you service the tens of thousands of jobs supporting Boeing production in Everett, Tukwila, Kent, Auburn out of their cars? You don’t do it simply by building a transportation system geared towards getting people to downtown Seattle. And the reason places like Kent and Auburn and Renton are growing could also be people needing to live closer to where they work.

      2. The policies do target growth to Bellevue, Kirkland, Lynnwood, Kent, Bothell, etc, as well as Seattle. And every suburb is scrambing to densify its downtown, seeing that as the key to compete economically and attract jobs. They all see what downtown Bellevue has and they want some of it too. And transit is slowly coming together to connect all these centers.

        Boeing has to take some responsibility to shuttle people from transit centers, as Silicon Valley companies do from Caltrain stations. And cities with scattered jobs (Kent) also need to be pro-active in providing shuttles from the transit centers to the job sites, and encouraging companies to locate on certain transit corridors rather than willy-nilly everywhere.

      3. Mike, agreed, there is a master growth plan that was supposed to discourage development in Eastern King County but somehow, the developers managed to get mega projects approved in North Bend and Snoqualmie and I’m sure more would be queued up.

        Johns, agreed, there is a good chunk of jobs in downtown Seattle. But there are also a huge chunk of jobs at Boeing plants. Also in plants that support Boeing and ancillary industries. Those jobs will never be in a downtown city. But we need to acknowledge and support commute patterns related to those non-downtown jobs. Whether it is Bothell to Everett or Auburn to Renton. I agree we need to cajole Boeing into supporting shuttle services akin to Microsoft Connector. That is why I continue to say a Boeing Access Road intermodal station is a good idea.

        There are also thousands of jobs centered around the military bases in Pierce and Kitsap counties as well as our state Capitol with commuters driving long distances to get to their posts. We need to address those with acknowledgement of those commute patterns.

  4. Question about transit passes.

    Getting ready to start a new job that’s going to make bussing to work very simple, but I’m trying to figure out the most “cost effective” way to do it. Looking through the ORCA site yesterday I saw you can buy a $2.50 (peak/one zone) pass for $90. Breaking that down though, if I only commute by bus, it basically takes all but two days of the month to pay for that…not much of a “bulk discount.” I also know the employer offers a pre-tax paycheck deduction to pay for passes with, but that’s basically all.

    So I figure if I were to bike to work now and again, or if there were days I didn’t have to go into the office, filling up the “e-purse” is probably the best use of funds. Are there other options I’m not considering?

    1. First, there are often more than 20 work days a month. March has 23. Second, if you use transit at all other than commute it’s great to never worry about that extra cost and likely ensures you are breaking even if you don’t use the bus everyday.

      1. On the calendar yes but for an individual if you figure in vacation, holidays, sick leave it works out to almost exactly 20 commute days on average per month.

      2. If you ever need to make just one trip that requires more than a two hour layover, then the pass works out.

    2. If you can displace a large number of trips by bike, going the e-Purse route can save a lot of money – $5 per RT adds up. However, if you go the “all you can eat” route, it sure is nice not to think about how much a trip will cost you. Any extra trips for errands, shopping, or weekend trips become *really* cheap and increase the incentive to avoid using your car if you have one.

      The decision rests on how much you can practically bike or ride the bus vs drive a car.

      1. Ok, so it sounds like my math might be a little off on the days/month but it does balance out to about 20. But those more or less are my choices, e-purse or the monthly pass for ORCA? And I think I saw in another thread if you buy the monthly pass, you have to make that purchase about a month ahead.

        How much I’ll bike is yet to be determined but it’s not incredibly far so odds are good for riding. Car, pretty unlikely for most situations. The one seat ride makes the bus a really attractive option.

      2. If you buy the pass through an employer-sponsored pre-tax program, you have to choose two months ahead. (E.g., by the 10th of month 1, to receive the ORCA card by the end of month 2, for use in month 3.) After you’ve signed up, the deadline may be a bit later to opt in/out of certain months or to change the rate.

        If you buy the pass at a TVM at full price, you can do so at any time in the second half of the previous month (I think after the 10th).

        Employer cards save some 33% in taxes but there are some caveats:

        – Read the contract carefully to see whether you can add e-purse money at a TVM or have to choose it in advance. My employer card couldn’t be topped up at an TVM but somebody else said his could.

        – You aren’t “supposed” to use the card except for commuting to work. If the rides are free after 36 trips, it’s debatable whether it’s legal/moral to use them.

        – Beware of fare increases. If it’s announced after the deadline or you miscalculate, you may have to pay 25c extra every trip, which would more than wipe out any gain you would have had with the low-value pass.

        I ordered an employer pass in an October (November?) for January, and then Metro raised the fare and my company switched to a different servicer. So it was near the last day of the month and I didn’t know if my card would arrive or if it had been cancelled because of the switchover. Customer Service said contradictory things. My card did arrive on the last day of the month but the pass was 25c short and no e-purse. I called both ORCA and the company’s Customer Service, and both said the other would have to adjust the pass rate; they couldn’t. I refused to put in a quarter every trip (which would have been more than the $9 difference between the pass levels anyway) so I bought a full-price pass instead and haven’t gone back to an employer pass since.

      1. It’s even more complicated if you can use either MT or ST for a 2-zone in-county trip and sometimes commute during peak and soemtimes off-peak, so the fare varies between $2.25, $2.50 and $3.00. If you buy the $3.00 pass, you are overpaying on every ST trip and all off-peak MT trips. If you buy the $2.50 trip, you need to let MT peak buses pass you by.

      2. It seems like the sensible thing to do would be to buy the pass value for the minimum cost trip you regularly make, then use the e-purse to make up the difference.

      3. Carl, why would you need to let a peak bus pass you buy? You can use e-purse to make up the difference if necessary.

    3. Reasons to buy a low-value pass + e-purse: You want to save every single dollar, you’ve counted up the number of peak vs off-peak trips you’ll make and determined that you don’t make enough peak trips to justify the higher pass.

      Reasons to buy a high-value pass: You want the convenience of never having to worry about, “Is this one-mile trip worth the cost?” You take transit outside of work (or you might if you had a high-value pass). You don’t mind giving the transit agencies a few extra dollars to help their budget situation (and improve service). You don’t worry about whether you’ll be out of town for a week or two that month.

      I buy a $2.50 pass even though I commute both peak and off-peak and sometimes work at home, because I’m the second kind of person. Once or twice a month I go to Bellevue or SeaTac. Sometimes I pay an extra 25 or 50c for that, sometimes not, as Metro and ST leapfrog each other with fare increases.

      1. Mike and co.

        Thanks for the responses. I’ll be sure to read the fine print, but I think until I get a handle on the new routine, e-purse is going to be my default.

  5. I’m heading to Portland sometime in May and want to get a (relatively) cheap hotel along a MAX line. Its been years since I was in Portland–there was only one line when I last lived there, although it was the extended line from Hillsboro to Gresham. Don’t want to use my car, so the hotel has to be within walking distance to any of the MAX lines. I would love to stay downtown if the hotel isn’t too expensive and will even consider the ‘new’ Pearl District since it has the streetcar…

    Thanks everyone!

    1. What’s your budget? I can usually find something Downtown for around $99/night for a decent place. The fairly new Marriott Courtyard at 5th & Oak is usually around that (not to be confused with the Marriott City Center that’s usually $20-$30 more a night).

      1. Thanks, Kevin!

        Yeah, I’m hoping for $80-$100 per night. Not too expensive, but not a flea-bag either…

    2. At Beaverton Transit Center, there’s a really nice Motel 6 that’s around 50 per night. Out at Parkrose TC, there’s an EconoLodge that runs around 60.

      Also consider the McMenamin’s hotels.

      1. Sometimes I feel like all the ad space on Link has been bought by #$%@ trial lawyers promising SSDI benefits, anti-abortion “pregnancy counselors” and some stupid Subaru dealership who seem to think that planting a tree for each test ride is a way to zero emissions.

      2. I take it you don’t work for an ad sales departments, Bruce. I’m wondering when the Palestinian solidarity groups will get around to trying a buy of inside ads. Or when the county will get around to prosecuting any of the anti-Palestinian zealots who made those threats of violence in the last go-round that were used to justify quashing the ad.

        It strikes me that church groups trying to recruit pregnant girls into their flock may not pass muster as a “commercial enterprise”. Not that I don’t want Metro and ST to graciously accept their money, mind you, but churches are no more a commercial enterprise than political advocacy groups are.

        The only ads I really want to see banned are campaign ads by county councilmembers and the executive, so that they eliminate any conflict of interest in setting the ad rates (which are clearly below what the market rate should be, creating an appearance of misuse of public property by any incumbent who had a hand in setting the rates and then takes advantage of how cheap they are). This is not an accusation, but rather a call for good policy that protects the public interest.

    3. The Days Inn at 82nd MAX is decent. You might also get either the Double Tree at Lloyd Center or the 4 Points in downtown in that range.

    4. Hotel Modera is a nice place right on the end of the Green/Yellow MAX lines and very close to the streetcar. They usually have a very reasonable pre-pay rate.

    5. The Comfort Inn at 82nd is under $70 (October) and complete (clean, free buffet breakfast, free wi-fi, weight room or gym privileges). The Day’s Inn across the highway is similar. Both are walking distance from MAX, around 20 minutes to downtown. Three MAX lines stop there so it’s every five minutes or so. 82nd is ugly like Aurora, but it does have a frequent N-S bus which gives a taste of Portland’s grid system.

      There’s also a Motel 6 near the convention center (Lloyd district). I know ppl who’ve stayed there and liked it but I read mixed reviews online about whether there’s bedbugs so I skipped it.

    6. Does anyone know if any of the hotel search engines incorporate distance to transit as an option? I’ve had this exact same situation and have had to do the research the hard way.

  6. My wife and I generally stay at The Mark Spencer, on the Downtown border of the Pearl District, a few blocks from Powell’s Books. It’s just a couple of blocks from MAX- and the streetcar stops a block away each direction. Check it out online.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I generally stay at the Youth Hostel for $30/night. But this is probably not most people’s idea of a good time.

      1. When I was in college I pretty much only stayed in Youth Hostels. Once I get out of the Army and start traveling again (right now any vacation time is spent going either to Seattle or to visit my family) I would do that again, only now I wonder if I’ll be too old.

      2. Most “youth” hostels will accept any age these days. I stayed in them in the UK and Canada as well as the USA after college for example.

        I have a negative recommendation — the Rodeway Inn (formerly Lamplighter) near Sunset Transit Center. Reviews are terrible. Cheap though!

  7. I’ve been pondering a way to have the best of both worlds in fare payment systems (pay-as-you-board and proof-of-payment), without too much capital expense.

    Imagine if the current transfer papers were hole-punched to indicate the route and date (and not necessarily in a way that casual recipients could read the coding), and torn to indicate the time. While most buses (except those designated especially as POP) would continue to have PAYB, fare inspectors could also move randomly around the whole fleet, and request to see POP on demand. Everyone should assumedly have a tapped ORCA, a ticket paper, or a flash pass.

    My thinking is that with ORCA readers installed at back doors, operators could opt to open both doors at busy stops, and let everyone on, annoucing that they all need to pay as they board. Then, when everyone is seated and has had time to react to the announcement — surprise! — the plain-clothed fare inspectors hop on board.

    At places where there are stationed security (various transit centers), the security guards ought to do lots of POP checks. If we had a POP policy, security personnel stationed at Northgate TC, for example, could save enough service hours on just the 41 alone, by allowing all-door egress and entry, to practically pay their own wages. (But even without POP, having a fare inspector stationed at Northgate TC, and staffing the back door of every 41 that pulls up, could save significant operating hours and save many more human hours wasted while buses take several minutes to board or empty out.)

    The ticket papers would give the flexibility to end paper transfers, while still allowing retention of the RFA (although I am not really interested in trying to save the RFA). A ticket paper would be good for both the starting and ending sides of a coupled route. The lack of POP has been one of the hurdles to elimination of paper transfers, since it would be kinda goofy to ask riders to pay twice on the same bus.

    1. What you’re describing is basically what has been advocated on STB as the replacement for the RFA. See this guest post from VBD. The only difference is using machine-printed tickets vs mysteriously hole-punched transfer tickets.

      1. I see the trap in which we’re stuck: Seattle will say it has to keep the RFA until paper transfers are eliminated. Metro will say it has to keep the transfers until the RFA is eliminated. Who will catch whose tail?

        Of course, if Metro introduces universal POP, then they can no longer say “Go talk to the City of Seattle first.”

      2. I’m not sure whether I’d concur with your assessment: Seattle’s government is very pro-transit and wants to see Metro thrive. I suspect in particular that many of them would appreciate it if our busses were less hobo-tastic than they are now, as that’s a major barrier to middle-class ridership, and in turn, middle class city living; the RFA is easily the quickest way to effect that change. Moreover it is is Metro, not the city, who will actually bear the brunt of public anger and lost revenue if any future transition away from the RFA to POP is cocked up.

        Our Great Red Hope in all of this is RapidRide, which will provide Metro with a way to test POP, and (at some point in the future when they’re not broke) off-board cash payment. RapidRide may also provide us the opportunity to start switching our very radial bus network to a transfer-oriented system.

        For example, one could imagine truncating the 18 local at Leary and running it every five to ten minutes as a neighborhood shuttle, forcing transfers from RapidRide, but keeping the 18X commuter bus all the way downtown, so commuters don’t lose their fast one-seat-rides (and RapidRide isn’t overloaded on-peak). This transition might be even easier in West Seattle, where after 8PM route 55 is truncated at the Junction and becomes a neighborhood shuttle.

      3. The city could unilaterally give up the RFA (although, in theory, Metro could continue to have it even after the city ceases to pay for it). But doing so without eliminating the free paper transfers would be a recipe for bus gridlock downtown. The two should ideally happen simultaneously.

        As long as the city keeps paying, Metro has a contractual obligation to continue the RFA. So, the two bodies need to negotiate an interlocal agreement to get rid of both paper transfers and the RFA silultaneously.

      4. Sure… but my point is that regardless of the legal machinations, there is a shared interest in eliminating the RFA, as doing so will improve the quality and (we hope) the farebox recovery of all of Metro’s bus routes, especially the ones that go through downtown.

      5. When you say “shared interest”, do you mean that you have reason to believe a majority of the city council is ready to give up the RFA contract?

      6. Also, lest it not get said, Metro should cease selling ticket books. Any location that can sell ticketbooks can sell ORCA and load an e-purse. Any location that can ship ticket books can ship an ORCA with an e-purse loaded.

        Tickets from the book could continue to be accepted up to an announced deadline, and allow ticket books to be turned in and converted to ORCA e-purses up to a later announced deadline. These deadlines should be announced when the deadline for ticket-book sales is announced, lest there be a run on ticket-book sales.

        Eliminating ticket books will help smoothe the transition to universal POP, since there can easily be confusion over whether showing a fare inspector a ticket from the book demonstrates good faith.

      7. The bus fare boxes in cities like New York and Las Vegas print transfer tickets. I think they are similar to Metro’s fare boxes, though maybe it requires an additional module. Printed transfer tickets should reduce the opportunity for transfer fraud. In NY the buses also read Metrocards and transfers and fares are deducted from them. While they accept cash, almost everyone uses a Metrocard – probably because there is a fare discount (or bonus) for using Metrocard.

        If we are to eliminate the RFA, then there really needs to be a one-day pass, otherwise it really penalizes cash (ePurse) riders who come downtown less then 4 days/week.

      8. If Metro shows convincingly that POP on RapidRide results in more revenue and higher quality bus service without making afternoon downtown loading excessively slow, the city council will be more than happy to give up the RFA.

      9. I’m pleased to hear this (inside?) assessment, Bruce. However, RR A still gives paper transfers, incentivizing front-door cash fumbling. Plus, making everyone enter at the front door at TIBS is a multi-minute waste of time that cuts into operators’ breaks.

        Eliminating paper transfers is the key to making POP worthwhile. Do the city and county realize they are chasing each others’ tails on the issues of eliminating the RFA and paper transfers?

  8. This being an open thread, I wanted to offer the question: What do you think of the backward-facing seating arrangements for wheelchairs on SWIFT?

    1. It has come up a few times in STB comments. You may be able to search for them although I’ve never have any luck searching for something in comments. Opinions are mixed.

      Negative: Some ppl find it unpleasant or dizzying to face backwards, or think it’s unacceptably unequal that the disabled have to face backwards.

      Positive: It’s supposedly safer because vehicles stop suddenly but don’t start suddenly. It’s faster loading. Some ppl think it’s unreasonable for the disabled to demand a forward-facing seat if it slows everybody else’s trip.

      I’m not going to offer an opinion since I’ve never had need of these facilities, except to mention that I do have a relative who avoids backward seats on trains saying it makes her dizzy.

  9. Does anybody have information about stop consolidation on Route 7? it appears 2 bus stops near me on Rainier have been “removed”.

  10. http://kingcounty.gov/exec/news/release/2011/March/29Trolley.aspx

    “The initial findings of an evaluation of options for replacing Metro Transit’s aging trolley bus fleet suggest that when all factors are considered – including available funding – new electric trolley buses would be the most cost-effective replacement with the least environmental impacts, according to King County Executive Dow Constantine. … Updated information about the study and a comment form will be available online starting the week of April 11 at http://www.kingcounty.gov/trolleyevaluation . The comments will be considered as the evaluation is completed this spring.”

    via Jon Morgan post


    1. Good news. Still need to be vigilant. That said, it might be time to start gaming a bit. “We’d place an order if they were $XX but $YY is just too much in these tough economic times. Maybe we can make a deal for a long term contract if you [insert manufacturers of choice] are willing to negotiate a better price.”

      1. Well, maybe if the county committed to doubling the electrified system and purchasing 300 buses. And maybe partnering with another system (like PDX) to get the total order up to a point where there is cost savings all around. Or maybe the county enticing other cities like Renton or Bellevue to use ETB’s.

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